Calls for Alex McLeish's head as drop looms for Aston Villa following Bolton defeat
Aston Villa 1 Bolton Wanderers 2
Wednesday 25 April 2012
The prospect of relegation for the first time in 25 years looms larger for Aston Villa after a numbing defeat by one of their fellow stragglers. Bolton, trailing to Stephen Warnock's goal just after the hour, responded with two of their own from a Martin Petrov penalty and David Ngog in the three minutes that followed, sparking calls from Villa's supporters for the sacking of manager Alex McLeish.
Villa, who have lost twice as many matches at Villa Park as they have won, now have the worst home record in their illustrious history. They could have opened an eight-point gap over the bottom three but instead lead 18th-placed Bolton by only three points, with the Lancashire side having a game in hand. Bolton, indeed, are now just a point adrift of QPR and Wigan.
This fixture looked destined not to take place at one time, having been postponed from its original Saturday date for TV coverage on a Sunday, then called off because Bolton were involved in the FA Cup that weekend, and cancelled again in the aftermath of Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest. So when the stadium was caught in a biblical deluge shortly before the game, pessimists wondered whether it might again be off.
The rain relented, at least until midway through the first half, and Villa had an early opportunity when Chris Herd rose to meet Charles N'Zogbia's corner kick with 52 seconds played. The Australian's header hit the roof rather than back of the net, but Villa's confidence appeared to be boosted.
Despite the nerve-shredding magnitude of the occasion, the Villa crowd joined in the applause the Bolton contingent began for their stricken but recovering No 6, Muamba, after six minutes. Owen Coyle's players had warmed up wearing "Stay Strong for Stan" T-shirts in solidarity with Villa's captain Stiliyan Petrov, who is undergoing treatment for acute leukaemia, and this time the visitors stand put their hands together.
The Villa faithful were less magnanimous towards Nigel Reo-Coker, a former claret-and-blue captain now leading Bolton, after a robust challenge, not penalised by Mr Foy, on Andreas Weimann. Bolton finally drew a save from Shay Given just after the half-hour, Ryo Miyaichi's shot ending a flowing move, but Villa came tantalisingly close as half-time approached.
First, Emile Heskey turned sharply and fired straight at Adam Bogdan. Then the marauding Alan Hutton cut the ball back for Warnock, whose 16-yard shot smacked the bar. As Bolton packed their area, Herd's goalbound drive was blocked by Tim Ream, soon followed by a Charles N'Zogbia free-kick which clipped the outside of the post. Coyle opted to use the experience and power of Kevin Davies for the second half.
For all the promise of Weimann, and Heskey's willingness to fight for the cause, it was not difficult to see why Villa have averaged barely a goal per game at home this season. At set-pieces, where the injured Richard Dunne and James Collins were once such a threat, they seldom produced the delivery to trouble Bogdan, but they at last found a way through from open play in the 61st minute.
N'Zogbia made it, his driving run burning off Sam Ricketts, and Warnock scored it, arriving on the edge of the six-yard box to steer home his second goal of the campaign.
Just 60 seconds later, though, Hutton was adjudged to have brought down Mark Davies, allowing Petrov to equalise from the spot. As Bolton pressed again, Chris Eagles' twisting run culminated in a pass which Ngog slid home.
Man of the match Warnock.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside).
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